You already know Jerry Lewis is a douchebag.
But in some respects Jerry has not gotten the credit he deserves. He’s also a patronizing ableist who’s successfully promoted out-dated, prejudicial attitudes about disability. In recognition of this noncomplishment, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided to give him an Oscar – for being a humanitarian.
As a disability rights activist, I’m sure Jerry considers me one of the “leeches… . Disabled people who are … bitter at the bad hand they’ve been dealt.” Whatever. I’ve still gotta ask:
Who’s worse? The douchebag who spews this stuff, or the Board of Douches that gave him an award for it?
On February 22nd, Jerry was awarded the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for hosting Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethons for the last 42 years.
In a 1990 Parade article, Jerry got the public ready to give till he hurts us by writing that if he had MD, he’d be a “half-person.” Shouldn’t a humanitarian at least recognize the people he’s supposedly working for are full humans?
The golden statuette was presented to Jerry after a soppy reel of the comic palling around with “his kids.” Too bad that many of them abhor his message of pathos and helplessness – and being called “kids” their whole lives. Writer and activist Laura Hershey, a former Telethon “poster child,” authored a petition demanding the award be revoked.
“Lewis has helped to perpetuate negative, stereotypical attitudes toward people with disabilities,” the petition states. “Lewis and the Telethon actively promote pity. Disabled people want respect and rights.”
Over 2,800 signatories agree. Along with her signature on the petition, Anita Amy Ashdon wrote, “While I was an MDA ‘poster girl’ in 1977, [Lewis] never stopped smoking around his ‘kids’ and refused to talk to us or give an autograph. He treated us like prop objects to make his image look good. It was a crushing moment for a seven year old.”
During the 1992 Telethon – two years after passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act – Lewis said people with MD “cannot go into the workplace. There’s nothing they can do.”
Actually, there’s a lot they can do, like call themselves “Jerry’s Orphans” and protest the telethons every year. Or make a documentary, The Kids Are All Right about the protests.
Hey! Isn’t being a filmmaker considered “work”? Isn’t there even an organization that gives people awards for making films?
Anyway, in the inimitable “say-what-I-really-think-before-my-publicist-checks-it” style that won him the Humanitarian Oscar, Monsieur Douchier told a Vanity Fair reporter, “They want me to stop now? Fuck them. Do it in caps. FUCK THEM.”
(You can actually listen to Jerry himself rant, “You don’t want to be pitied because you’re a cripple in a wheelchair? Stay in your house!” right here!)
But we uppity crips don’t always stay in our houses and pine away that we’re disabled, like we’re supposed to. Hershey and a coalition of disability rights organizers formed The Trouble with Jerry to educate AMPAS about the damage the Telethons cause and ask the award be withheld.
Their letter to the Academy began by urging AMPAS “to reconsider your decision, rescind the Award, and meet with us to discuss its damaging ramifications. While Mr. Lewis raised significant dollars for MDA, the cost is too high to the rights, images and dignity of people with disabilities.”
AMPAS Executive Director, Bruce Davis responded: “Nothing in your letter … come[s] as news… .But in all fairness … he has raised more than $800 million in support of the care of those afflicted with muscular dystrophy, and research toward its cure. Once again: $800,000,000.
“Doesn’t it seem … that this is an extraordinary accomplishment? … Heroes are rarely perfect… . At the same time, . . some scratches in the paint job shouldn’t lead us to dismiss the virtues of a Lamborghini.”
Davis seems to be fond of repeating repeating the dollar amount (maybe so all “those afflicted” can measure Jerry’s humanitarianism in the correct increments), because he did more of that in person, when members of The Trouble with Jerry protested on Oscar weekend in LA.
Protesters took over the AMPAS lobby on February 20, singing a pithy little pity ditty (“He feels pity, so much pity. He feels pity, and to this we object! Because pity, heightens fear and undermines respect”), demanding to speak to Davis, and generally enjoying themselves. When the police couldn’t intimidate the group into leaving, they had their meeting:
“For the next five or ten minutes, we laid out our objections to the idea of giving Jerry Lewis, of all people, a humanitarian award. As he’s done before, Davis made his favorite point about Lewis — that he has raised a huge amount of money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. ‘Isn’t that worth something?’ he asked.
“… Davis alternately listened attentively, and reacted defensively. One activist told a story about a friend with a neuromuscular condition, who needed a life-saving ventilator, which was denied by MDA. At this point, Davis announced that he was very busy getting ready for the Oscars. He waved goodbye, and left us.”
This really makes it hard to decide: Who earns the douchebag decree?
The guy who, when his career started foundering, used children as props, then demeaned them in public and private for four decades?
Or the self-satisfied head of Hollywood’s arbiters of achievement, who subtly accuses a group of grassroots disability-rights activists of being self-promoting in the same letter as he uses a casual Lamborghini reference to make his point?
The unapologetic bigot scraping for adoration any way he can get it?
Or the Academy that gave him the Oscar and the standing ovation; that already knew how Jerry treats the people they’re honoring him for “helping”; who call him “a hero”; who makes the point over and over that it’s all about the Benjamins, yet when they hear a real account of MDA not using that money to keep someone alive … Woops! Got an urgent meeting/luncheon/massage to get to!
Oh, the humanity.